Thursday, 25 November 2021

Homeric England

With the world growing ever madder, and in ever more alarming ways, it is a joy to come across a story like this – the chance discovery of a fine Roman mosaic under farmland in Rutland. What I find particularly cheering about it – and what makes it unique in England – is that the mosaic depicts a scene from the Iliad: the great fight between Hector and Achilles towards the end of the Trojan wars. I love the thought of a landowner in late Roman England amusing himself and his guests, and showing his deep cultural roots, with a high-quality depiction of a scene from Homer. And I love that this discovery has been made in Rutland, England's smallest county and one of its loveliest (in terms of rural landscape), an under-appreciated county nestling among the other under-appreciated counties of enduring Mercia. 
  Homer never went away, even in England. It was in the supposed Dark Ages that the history of Britain was linked to the Trojan wars by way of Brutus of Troy, a grandson or great grandson of Aeneas, who, banished from Italy after accidentally killing his father, wandered over much of Europe before settling in a country he named Britain, after himself, and filling it with his descendants. This foundation myth was presented as historical fact as late as the Elizabethan period, and there is even an 18th-century epic poem by one Hildebrand Jacob called Brutus the Trojan, Founder of the British Empire. The Homeric narrative has always been with us, and always will be – though that might be a rash assertion in these mad times. 

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